Listen With Your Eyes

Listening with your eyes

When you are an author, you are, in effect, a parasite of life. Every experience, every glimpse of people, is stored up, ready to use in a novel. Sometimes, when there’s time, it’s good to be able to simply notice. To walk through a crowd and store up memories. You don’t consciously decide that a stranger will be a psychopath, or that a young man will be a jilted lover, or the grandmother will be the wise woman in a story. But you notice, you listen with your eyes, and add to the store in your mind. So that when you are writing, perhaps months later, and you need a character, you have a whole bank of them, waiting, ready to be fleshed out with a personality and a backstory. It helps if you are alone, as chatty husbands can be something of a distraction. So when the family decided to build a sandcastle (yes, they are all adults) I didn’t object, and was happy to walk along the beach for a while.

Walk along a beach in the Algarve with me, and notice. The Muslim family, with the mother covered from head to toe in black, sitting, child on lap, laughing as the waves rush over them. The bronze grandmother, wearing not a stitch, her stretched breasts flopping as she walks. The young men in tight swimwear, throwing a ball between them on the hard sand; the pretty teenager, sucking in her tummy, posed to one side, hoping, desperately, that one of the men will notice her. The mother of twins, sagging tummy oozing over her bikini, not caring because the two boys toddling through the waves are her whole world. The English woman, with the sensible haircut, walking through the shallows, her whole body red with sunburn except for the two white lines she has exposed where her sun-top straps went. The young girl with the tiny bikini walking next to her muscle-bound lover, the twin peaches of her perfect bottom moving from side to side, perfect ovals beneath the tiny pants. The old man, in straw hat and baggy shorts, walking along the sand. The father laughing as his young son spits water, after being swamped by an unexpected wave. The mother wrapping her shivering daughter in a big towel when she returns from her swim. The couple under the big umbrella, on the striped mat, eating a tidy salad from a plastic container, before they return to their New York Times bestsellers. The girl collecting shells in a purple bucket. The boys digging a trench next to their sandcastle; and the young men; and the grandfathers; and the fathers—while their children, bored, have wandered away. The young father holding his podgy baby in the waves, while she lifts her legs and squeals at the cold. The pregnant woman walking with measured steps along the tide line, watching other people’s children playing, anticipating.

And then there are the sounds. The crashing of the surf as it hits the shingle. The crunch of footsteps as you walk. The roar, somewhere out to sea, of the speedboat. The chatter of language you don’t understand, and the wisps of English that float towards you as you pass. The shrill of seagulls from the cliff behind you, the cry from sellers as they stomp the sand, showing their wares.

You can feel the sun, hot on your head. The trickle of sweat on your back. The grate of shells prickling your feet, the cold as the sea rushes over your skin. And the breeze, that blessed cool, that glides in from the sea and makes it all bearable, pleasant even, as you watch, and listen, and absorb all the life surrounding you; hold it tight, because one day you might need it.

Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com

Costa Book Awards

I recently saw some information about the Costa Book Awards. These are awarded each year, and they are a big deal. There is a financial prize (from £1,000 to £5,000) but more importantly, they attract readers. The winners of the Costa Book Awards can expect mainstream bookshops to put their books where they are likely to be seen by people browsing. And readers are keen to read a book that has won a prize. The awards can turn an unknown author into a household name – at least amongst those who read.

I discovered that books can be submitted to the judges from publishers. Now, as I set up a micro-publishing house, rather than paying a self-publishing company to publish my books, I thought why not enter a book? I know that CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is by far my best book, and is as good as many popular books, so why not have a try? It has been professionally edited and typeset, it was printed by mainstream printers, I paid a photographer for an enticing cover, it is available through wholesalers, it has an ISBN number. If someone randomly picked it off a shelf, they wouldn’t know whether it was self-published or published by one of the major publishing houses. So I wrote to the person sending out the application forms, and she duly sent me one. Or to be precise, she sent one to The Cobweb Press, which has its own email account.

But then everything fell to pieces. There was a clause which read:
iv We regret that self-published books and books solely published online are not eligible. Self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book.

I was pretty sure this disqualified my book. But The Cobweb Press is a legitimate business, and I do employ editors, typesetters, etc on a freelance basis, so I had one last try, and emailed the helpful admin person to check. She informed me that if I published books by other authors, I could submit my book, but not if I only published my own work. I considered quickly publishing via Kindle a book by another author (I know a few) but decided that they would probably check, and it was probably deceptive of me, and I probably shouldn’t. So I didn’t. The Costa Book Awards will not be considering CLARA – A Good Psychopath? as a possible contender. Which is a shame.

I was particularly interested by a clause in the instructions which reads:

We ask that you take careful note of all conditions before submitting your title(s).   If you’re uncertain as to whether or not a title meets the criteria, then please contact me before submitting it. Very occasionally we’ve had situations where the eligibility of a book has appeared ambiguous.
 
When you submit any title, you are confirming that title’s eligibility.  Entries will be further checked by the organisers as the judging process progresses to confirm that they are eligible.  If, at this stage, it’s found that an entry is, in fact, ineligible, it can cause great inconvenience and disappointment so please ensure that all titles you submit are eligible.

Now, this implies that they have had self-published books submitted in the past. And they have considered them for a prize, not realising that they were self-published, but further investigation revealed they were not published traditionally, so they were disqualified.

My question is – why? Why is the book industry so intent on squashing the new author – unless they are linked to a celebrity or film producer, or have an actual human contact? Why do major bookshops and wholesalers and competition organisers refuse to accept that a book which is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book might not be inferior? I have had my books rejected from magazines when I have offered them for review:”Sorry, but we don’t review self-published books”, from some bookshops (though the major ones are beginning to accept them if you jump through enough hoops) and, most importantly, readers. People will ask, “Is it self-published?” and if it is, they walk away. Yet it is incredibly difficult to persuade traditional publishers to take on a new author unless they fit a very tight criteria, unless they are pretty much the same as books they are already selling. Which is rather limiting don’t you think? Do we want the world to be full of books which major companies have decided we should be reading – or do we want to select them on merit?

I understand that some self-published books are not edited, and are badly written. I realise that some do not have trade agreements with wholesalers, so if they were to become well-known they would be difficult for bookshops to source. However, as publishing houses become ever more restricted by falling sales, surely society should be looking in a wider pond for excellent new authors.

CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is not likely to be eligible for entry to major book competitions. Nor will it be reviewed by well-known magazines or newspapers. But it is still a book worth reading. As are many, many self-published books. Please remember, when you next choose a book to order from your library, or to download for your Kindle, or to buy for your holiday, some of the best books are the ones which are not traditionally published. Why not give them a chance?

The latest, and best book (in my opinion). An exciting novel written in the first person, which shows how a psychopath views the world. The story encompasses the world of women trafficked in India, and shows how someone very bad, can be used to achieve something amazing.

Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. They are available from book shops and Amazon. She writes a weekly blog at: anneethompson.com

 

The latest, and best book (in my opinion). An exciting novel written in the first person, which shows how a psychopath views the world. The story encompasses the world of women trafficked in India, and shows how someone very bad, can be used to achieve something amazing.

A gritty thriller, which shows what it means to be a psychopath, and how it would feel if someone in your family did something awful. (Because every psychopath has a mother.)

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson.
An easy read, feel good novel, set in an infant school. An ideal gift, this is a book to make you smile.

An exciting novel, set in the near future. One family shows how they cope with driverless cars, new laws, and schools run by computers.

This tells all the things I wish I had known when first diagnosed. A helpful book for anyone with a potentially terminal illness. It shows how to find a surgeon, how to cope with other people’s fears, how to not be defined by an illness. It also has a few funny anecdotes – because even when you’re ill, it’s good to laugh.
Available from Amazon (you can get it free if you have a Kindle).

A hilarious romance for when you want to relax.

Agonies in a Craft Tent

Let me tell you about my weekend – another craft fair. Not my favourite activity. The thing is, writing books, creating a whole world with quirky characters and exciting happenings, is fabulous – best job in the world. However, taking those books, and trying to persuade people to risk a few hours and read one, is very scary. But there is little point in doing one without forcing yourself to do the other. This is how it tends to go.

First of all, is the venue. Usually you’re provided with a space in a marquee, booked at immense cost, which all adds to the pressure of how many books you need to sell to not lose a ton of money. The space can vary in quality. Sometimes you’re placed next to an aggressive seller, who has set her table well over the boundaries, and has squeezed your space to a tiny square. Sometimes the organiser has been more canny, and has marked on the floor exactly where each space begins and ends. There are good pitches – towards the centre of a walkway, and bad pitches – right next to the door (because people entering the tent don’t usually want to stop and listen to your sales pitch as soon as they get inside, and if you are the last stall, they are already thinking about leaving by the time they reach you. Though last is slightly better than first.) If it’s raining, you often get drips of water plopping onto your books. If it’s dry, you sometimes get condensation (see previous sentence). Sometimes it’s really hot, and then the air becomes too thick to breathe and after a couple of hours you are very red-faced and sweaty, and no one wants to approach your stall.

After you’ve set up, you can walk round and have a look at the other stalls. These tend to vary. There is the scowling old man who sits opposite the entrance, surrounded by his wife’s knitted cardigans. There are homemade stands: twigs stuck into flowerpots hanging with necklaces; husband-made constructions that would withstand a nuclear explosion; and the carefully selected textures and colours that make up the artists’ stalls. Most stalls represent hours upon hours of work, and everyone is feeling slighty desperate about trying to sell things, and trying hard not to show it.

There is lots of tension involved with selling books. Unlike jewellery and knitwear and paintings, they aren’t sold by how good they look, so the only way to sell is to tell people what they’re about. Not easy. You sit there, watching for potential customers, hoping for a flicker of eye-contact. It’s very bad form to start speaking while they’re looking at your neighbour’s stall, so you have to wait until they have moved into the space you ‘own’. These are moments of real tension, as you watch a couple meander around the tent, buying trinkets at other stalls (so they’re spending money today), they look intelligent (so sure to be readers); they walk nearer while I wait, ready with my patter, throat dry with nerves, waiting while they examine the stall nearest to me then, at last, they begin to approach, they glance towards my books, they turn to each other to make a comment, I begin to approach them and – they leave the marquee. I breath out, sip some water, wait for the next person.

And then there are the low points. The customer who arrives right after you’ve taken a swig of coke who you greet with a loud belch (she didn’t buy a book). Or the customers who arrive with a football team of uncontrolled kids who touch everything and ruin your display, and probably can’t read anyway. Or the owner of the small dog who lets it wee against your tablecloth. Not to mention the joys of portaloos. Or, depending on the fair, the happiness of sitting right next to where the bagpipes are playing.

However, I survived, and lots of lovely people did buy my books. There were also some interesting chats, like the one with the tiny old woman who told me she used to teach Camilla PE, and the palace have done wonders with her appearance, and she was always a very lazy girl who couldn’t do a handstand properly.

The problem is, selling books is personal. Every rejection feels like a put-down, and every sale brightens my day. So why not take a look at my books today – if you buy one, you’ll cheer me up immensely.

Thank you for reading. All my books are available on Kindle and in bookshops. UK Amazon link below.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-E.-Thompson/e/B07CL8HV95/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

 

The latest, and best book (in my opinion). An exciting novel written in the first person, which shows how a psychopath views the world. The story encompasses the world of women trafficked in India, and shows how someone very bad, can be used to achieve something amazing.

An exciting novel, set in the near future. One family shows how they cope with driverless cars, new laws, and schools run by computers.

A gritty thriller, which shows what it means to be a psychopath, and how it would feel if someone in your family did something awful. (Because every psychopath has a mother.)

A hilarious romance for when you want to relax.

Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson.
An easy read, feel good novel, set in an infant school. An ideal gift, this is a book to make you smile.

Email from a stranger

I received this message, which was lovely, so I thought I would share it with you:

Comment: Dear Anne
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading “Clara”. I was very much taken by the explanation you gave when you told me about your book at the East Grinstead book shop.
Some books stay with you when you have read them, and Clara was one of those for me.
I found Clara fascinating. I think there is a little bit of Clara in all of us, particularly in the way we all do try and manipulate others. However, unlike Clara, we will feel remorse for doing so.
At first I found the character of Clara intriguing as to how her mind worked. Then, the further she went, the more I started to feel uneasy about what she was doing. However, that then changed again when she went to India where she became a bit of an anti-heroine. I wondered what it would be like to try and communicate with her; knowing that would never be possible with someone like her. As soon as you were of no use she would just drop you.
Some books I buy to stretch the mind, others simply for the enjoyment as “page turners”. Clara was one of those books that did both for me. Thank you.
I went back to the bookshop today and purchased Joanna and Hidden Faces, and will continue to look out for your work.

Kind regards

Philip

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 Clara – A Good Psychopath? by Anne E. Thompson
ISBN 9780995463257
Published by The Cobweb Press
Available from book shops and Amazon.

Have you bought a copy yet?

 

 

Never Trust a Quiet Bull, or an Unloaded Shotgun…

There are two things a sensible farmer never trusts: a quiet bull and an unloaded shotgun.

I went back to the farm, for further research on the book that is in my head. I have lots of ideas, and snippets of stories, but I don’t yet know enough about my characters, or how they live, to begin writing. I should really visit a few different farms, but asking farmers (who I don’t know) is too scary, so for now I’m only visiting one – a beef farm in the next village.

I chatted to the couple who run the farm. They’d had a near disaster earlier in the week, when all the full-grown cows escaped and were heading off towards the road. The farmer called to them, as he ran away from them, into their pen. When they heard his voice they stopped running, and then turned to follow him. The farmer told me how important it is that he talks to them when they are calves, handles them, and becomes someone familiar and safe. Then, if something frightens them, they will look to him for security.

It seems that security is very important to cows. They are naturally very vulnerable to predators, and only their size and the herd can protect them. So they have big eyes that can see all around, and they shy away from anything unusual, any potential danger. Which means that everything has to be introduced slowly, and from an early age.

So when the farmer has new calves, he takes time teaching them how to go into the cattle truck. He tempts them in with food (always easier to lead than to drive from behind, apparently). They will practise going up the ramp, being shut in, even going for little drives. This means that later, when there is a humungous fat bull with opinions, he will be quite happy to be taken in the cattle truck. Which makes life easier for everyone.

The farmer said that you should never trust a bull. Even when they appear to be quiet and friendly, they can turn in a second. He also said you never assume a shotgun is unloaded, even when you know it is.

I went to watch the cows being fed. I would like to say ‘helped’, but I really just got in the way. All the cows are in, because the weather’s too wet for them to be out on clay soil. There were some new calves, just a couple of weeks old. They were still mainly drinking milk, so we (he) mixed the powder with warm water, and poured it into containers so they could suck. If too many calves crowded to the same place, we had to move them along, ensuring they all had a good feed. Moving them along sounds easier than it was – a sucking calf is very reluctant to move, and it took a lot of force for me to shove their heads to a space so each of them could reach a teat. While we fed them, the two farm dogs kept trying to lap the milk out the buckets. Any that was spilt (that was from my buckets) they licked up instantly.

The calves I saw in the autumn have grown loads. They still look young, but are nearly full-grown. They were in a large straw pen, and were fed dry food. They had to stick their heads through bars to reach it. They’re fed a mixture of rolled barley and protein pellets. The barley is grown on the farm, and if it’s not milled first, it passes straight through them, without them absorbing any nutrients.

 

There were some full grown cattle too. They went outside into the yard to be fed. They’ll soon be ready to leave, which I don’t think I would cope with if I was a farmer. I’m not sure how you don’t bond with the animals, and then find it impossible to send them off to the abattoir.

I saw where cows have their hair cut (because their winter coats would be too hot when they’re in the barn), and heaps of feed for the winter. I can tell you that cows have cold wet noses, and very rough tongues, and they are bemused when you take their photograph.

I also saw stacks of hay from other farms, which are going into a hay-growing competition and were waiting to be judged. Apparently very green hay, with very little leaf content, makes a winner. Who knew?

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Thank you for reading. Don’t forget that CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is available at a 33% discount, from me  (£7.95 with free UK postage), until 31st March. Send me a message via the contact form below. (The form is sent to me, it does not appear on this blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Radio Interview

I have just returned from being interviewed on Meridian FM. All very scary! Actually, the scary bit was not the interview, but trying to decide whether to brave the weather and drive there. All week the forecast has been dire, but we’ve had relatively little snow, and although it’s cold, the roads seemed clear. But it is still possible to worry all night about sliding off the road, meeting unexpected drifts, and crashing the car.

I got up early, spoke to Samantha Day (who had invited me onto her programme) and decided to risk it. First I had to take water up to the birds, because the pond has frozen and they’re all shut in a cage for safety. Their drinking water is continually freezing, so I have to continually top it up. The silly ducks then sit in it and splash it everywhere, so I’m not sure how much they drink, but I try.

Drive to East Grinstead was fine, no skids. Went up to the little studio, and chatted to Samantha between songs. My throat kept getting dry – not sure if due to nerves or a sore throat. Glad I had water to sip while the music was playing. Chatting on the radio is easy, it’s just the same as talking to a friendly person in a room, you soon forget about all the microphones and computers and the thousands of potential listeners.

I chatted about my book, how I wrote it, and what I discovered during my visits to the slums of India. I think I spoke more about psychopaths and India and Tearfund than I did about my book. You sort of lose track of why you’re there and have a nice chat. But that’s okay, hopefully the listeners were interested. Hopefully some of them were interested enough to now go and buy the book.

One thing that intrigued me was an envelope, stuck to the wall, which said, “Open in the event of a royal death”. If I worked there I would definitely have had a sneaky look inside. I guess it tells the presenters what to say and play on that day.

I spoke for about an hour (with music and weather bulletin breaks) and then thanked Samantha and drove home. On Saturday I’m in The Bookshop in East Grinstead, signing copies of CLARA – A Good Psychopath? I was able to advertise the event, so people can wrap up warm and meet me there.

Time for a coffee now.

Thank you for reading.

If you can’t make it to The Bookshop but would like a copy of Clara, fill out the contact form below. Available at 33% discount until 31st March (£7.95 with free UK postage). Order a copy today.

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 Kia refusing to come inside. She’s convinced that if she sits there for long enough, I will give up and go outside to play!

Was St. Paul a Psychopath?

When I was researching JOANNA, I discovered what it meant to be a psychopath. Born with an under-developed frontal lobe in the brain, a psychopath was destined to live their lives unable to experience emotional empathy, unable to feel guilt, unable to love. I listened for many hours to psychopaths talking, I read copious studies by neuroscientists, and I even managed to find two mothers of psychopaths who were prepared to talk to me. By the time I came to write JOANNA, I knew how a psychopath would think and behave, and I could imagine what it would be like to live with one.

However, the whole time I was writing JOANNA, striving to make an interesting story that would also show the reader everything I had learnt, I had a nagging doubt. If someone was born a psychopath, were they doomed? What did the disorder mean from a spiritual point of view? Psychopathy is a mental disorder, not an illness. It cannot be cured. It is a genetic condition, it cannot be prevented. Whilst the vast majority of psychopaths are not killers, and are never convicted of any crime, they will still be difficult people to live with. They will still be ‘bad’ people. So, what does that mean in terms of Christianity? Could a psychopath be a Christian?

Now, I believe that whilst God can, and does, sometimes heal people of physical disabilities, in the vast majority of cases, he does not. So a blind person who becomes a Christian will be a blind Christian. A Downs Syndrome person who becomes a Christian will be a Christian who has Downs Syndrome. God can use those situations, but he rarely changes them. As psychopathy is a physical condition, I think it unlikely that God would necessarily heal a psychopath. So what would a psychopathic Christian look like?

I began to read the Bible with this in mind. I knew that a psychopath would be unaffected by physical cruelty towards others. They would be ambitious for their own advancement, and possibly a leader within either the established religion or start their own. They would have no obvious emotional ties, and be quite capable of rejecting anyone who they felt was holding them back, even if that person had made huge sacrifices in order to follow them. They would have no fear, and be able to walk into dangerous situations, even if they knew it was risky. In fact, as thrill-seekers, psychopaths will often do things which they know hold high risk. Psychopaths are often eloquent, and their lack of fear makes them excellent public speakers. There is something mesmerising about them, people cannot help but listen to them (look on YouTube for clips of Charles Manson or Ted Bundy speaking – you will not be bored).

But what about God? Could a psychopath follow God? Well, a psychopath’s main motivation is to look after themselves. So, if they had an experience which proved to them beyond all doubt that God existed, they would definitely decide to follow him. They would do whatever was necessary to ensure they were on the ‘winning side’. They would not risk their soul, not if they knew, absolutely, that God was real.

Now, when we read the accounts about Paul, he shows many of these traits. Was he a psychopath? We do not have enough information to make that statement, and certainly some of his writings suggest that he was not. But I think it’s possible. I wanted to try and explore this further, so I wrote CLARA. As I wrote, I used the knowledge I had gleaned about psychopaths, and I very much had the character of St Paul in mind as I wove the story. The character of Clara is not St. Paul – but I think you will notice some similarities.

CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
ISBN 978-0-9954632-5-7
The Cobweb Press

I hope it is also a book you will enjoy, though at times it makes for uncomfortable reading. It is exciting, but there are funny moments. It shows how someone who is very bad, can achieve something that is very good. Are you prepared to be challenged? This is not a cosy portrayal of Christianity, and some people will find the ideas disturbing.

Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, it is available at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). Payment instructions will be sent with the book – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

 

 

 

If you prefer to buy from Amazon – it is available as a Kindle book in most countries – the UK link is below:

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anneethompson.com

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